The curious business of process serving

In the US, if you file a civil lawsuit against someone, that person is not legally required to respond until notice of the suit has been personally given to the person, a process known as ‘process serving’. Usually this is just a formality. There are people whose job is to serve the papers and they come to your home or office or other place where you are known to hang out and give you the papers and that’s that. The rules for properly serving the papers vary by state but there are some common general ones.

But Republican congressman Mo Brooks, who was being sued by Democratic congressperson Eric Swalwell for his role in the January 6th insurrection, decided to play an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with the process server to avoid being served.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) reported Sunday that he’d finally been served with a lawsuit filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) back in March after weeks of taunting the Democrat about his team’s inability to track Brooks down and press the papers into his hands. 

Swalwell’s suit in federal court accuses Brooks, along with former President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani of inciting the January 6 riot and breaking laws in the process. 

Brooks claimed on Twitter that not only had he been served with the papers, but that the process server allegedly criminally trespassed into his home and “accosted” his wife. 

Rep. Brooks gleefully dodged the Swalwell team’s attempts to serve him for weeks, tagging the congressman in tweets teasing his location and mockingly asking why it was so hard for them to track him down. 

Here is video taken by a security camera of the moment when the process server drove up to Brooks’s house just after his wife drove into the garage and gave her the papers and then quickly left while being berated by her.

In this case the papers were served on Brooks’s wife, and this can be sufficient.

When an individual party to be served is unavailable for personal service, many jurisdictions allow for substituted service. Substituted service allows the process server to leave service documents with another responsible individual, called a person of suitable age and discretion, such as a cohabiting adult or a teenager. Under the U.S. Federal Rules, substituted service may only be made at the abode or dwelling of the defendant.

Now Brooks is complaining that a crime was committed in the act of his wife being served.

If you know that you are being sued, you can waive the need to have the papers served so as to save everyone the time and effort spent on this process.

The whole process seems a little silly to me. I do not know if this is peculiar to the US or if other countries have similar rules.


  1. blf says

    I do not know if this is peculiar to the US or if other countries have similar rules.

    From memory, there is a similar requirement in England (dunno about the rest of teh “U”K).

  2. flex says

    I would call this a protection against being sued, and possibly found guilty, without notice. A notice in a newspaper could be missed, an e-mail may be deleted as spam before being read, a letter may be lost in the post. Having a process server able to confirm that the notice of the suit was delivered to the defendant (or a legally acceptable substitute), means the defendant cannot claim ignorance of the suit. It also means the defendant cannot be tried and found guilty without ever learning the lawsuit existed.

    Although, maybe a tweak to the law such that if it is evident that the defendant knows they are being sued, i.e. baiting the process server on Twitter, a judge could deem that sufficient acknowledgment of a pending legal action occurred.

  3. Bruce says

    In England of 100-200 years ago, the server had to physically touch the person, but in some cases an official stick could be used to extend their reach. Unless they made it to another area where the server did not have jurisdiction. Was that The City of London, as opposed to most of London?

  4. ardipithecus says

    Same here in British Columbia. Small Claims Court filings (under $10k) can be served by double registered mail.

  5. Marshall says

    Question--couldn’t you just ignore the person who is trying to serve you? What’s to stop you from just not taking the papers, and therefore never be sued? What are the specifics of “serving”--do you have to place the papers in the other person’s hand, and do they have to acknowledge that they are being served?

  6. garnetstar says

    Some process servers in America used to document themselves handing the documents to the defendant by having a third person photograph the event.

    And, they always start the conversation by saying “So-and-so full name, you have been served.” Then, if the defendant chooses to throw the papers on the ground unseen, or petulantly refuses to take them in their hand, that’s their look-out. They know that they’re being sued because you told them. I suppose the server tries to record themself saying that.

  7. mnb0 says

    “or if other countries have similar rules”
    I’ve never heard of “process serving”, so I bet neither Suriname nor The Netherlands know them.
    Summons are delivered by bailiffs. While I’m not sure my bet is that their testimonies are sufficient to make the lawsuit start even without defendants. So behaviour like Brooks’ would be very counterproductive.

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